Sports Opinion & Analysis

Transaction Analysis: Rudy Gay to Toronto, Calderon to Detroit

In NBA on January 31, 2013 at 8:02 am

By Jeff Weyant

We haven’t seen this Rudy Gay at all in the first half of the season. Is he poised for a comeback in the second half?

To Memphis: Tayshaun Prince, Ed Davis, Austin Daye, Toronto’s 2nd-round pick

To Detroit: Jose Calderon

To Toronto: Rudy Gay, Hamed Haddadi

One’s gut-reaction to news of this three-team deal might be shock and outrage – and on the surface that’s completely justified. After all, why would a championship contender like Memphis trade their quote-unquote best player (and current leading scorer) for a replacement small forward who is the exact opposite in every way (Prince), a benchwarmer (Daye), and a tough-nosed power forward of which they already have the King Himself (Randolph)? And why would Toronto trade two of its best players (by far) for a tier-two superstar who’s been backsliding the last 24 months? And why would Detroit, saddled already with three youngish point guards, trade for one of the best point guards in the league?

Well, as usual, there’s more than meets the eye. For starters, Rudy Gay still has the talent to compete with the LeBrons and the Kobes and the Chris Pauls of the league. He just doesn’t seem to really care about basketball in Memphis all that much. He takes nights off and throws up bad shots with increasing regularity. My guess is that he’s tired of the glacial, frostbitten tundra that the Grizzlies run out on offense every night. They score what feels like thirty points a game by throwing the ball into Randolph a billion times and hoping those arcing jump shots go in. Gay and his powerful, graceful athleticism are left to smolder on the perimeter. Maybe new digs will cheer him up and he’ll go crazy like he used to. And then again maybe he’ll continue shooting 40% from the field.

Memphis team salary, via Hoops Hype: With Mike Conley growing every day, Rudy Gay was getting pushed out of the standard Big Three core.

More importantly, however, Gay’s contract (only $16.5 million this year) jumps twice in the final two years, stopping mercifully at just over $19 million in the 2014-15 season. Coupled with the new tax rules kicking in over the next year or two, Memphis’ ability to do anything at all in terms of roster development is severely hampered at the moment. And by “severely hampered” I mean “nonexistent.” So they’re trading Gay’s salary for Tayshaun Prince’s, which lasts just as long but comes about $32 million cheaper. And Prince, for all his age and awkwardness, will probably fit right in with the Memphis culture of Grit n’ Grind (strangely enough, the Grizzlies are starting to resemble the Pistons during their championship days).

Finally, almost as a footnote, after trading Marreese Speights to the Cavaliers, the Grizzlies needed a replacement big man and Ed Davis fits that role even better than Speights did. In fact, Davis is having one of the best years of his career and I wouldn’t expect it to slow down in Memphis where his style of play will mesh well alongside Randolph and Gasol.

With Calderon out of the way, Lowry can play with a free and easy mind. If he can stay healthy, that is.

As for the Raptors, they’re betting big on Kyle Lowry (acquired in a trade during the offseason), making him and Rudy Gay their focal point the next several years in the hope that it leads to what’s never existed in Toronto: a decent, home-court-capable basketball team. If they add a wily veteran somewhere in the next 12 months (assuming Gay meshes well with the existing core), they might actually have the makings of a Conference Finalist. It remains to be seen as well whether Calderon’s influence in the locker room was as important as some (mainly me) expected it was. And in any case, the absence of Calderon and Davis will likely lead this team further into the pit of the Eastern Conference standings until they figure some things out.

Which leaves Detroit and whatever it is they think they’re accomplishing by trading for Jose Calderon. Since it seems more than probable that this is a salary dump (which doesn’t, by the way, make this any more comprehensible, because a salary dump for Detroit can only mean one thing: more free agent acquisitions, on which see more later), Calderon should probably not buy a house in the Detroit suburbs just yet. His contract expires this season (and the $10.5 million that came with it) and if the Pistons couple that with the departure of free agents-to-be Jason Maxiell, Will Bynum, Corey Maggette (who, yes, is still in the league), and some money owed to Rip Hamilton, they’re left with a  little over $35 million in salary for the 2014 season (this also assumes Charlie Villanueva activates his player option – and he will because he’s terrible and no one will give him $8.5 million on the open market). Add it all up and Detroit is a player in the upcoming free agent market. But since their last several forays into that part of the forest have left this writer underwhelmed with their ability to understand the game of basketball (see: Villanueva, Charlie and Gordon, Ben, Summer 2009), nothing much will likely come of it. Unless they resign Calderon, in which case some woe-begone player like O.J. Mayo might decide that Detroit is where he wants to be (which means the Pistons handed him a briefcase full of unmarked greenbacks and everybody shook hands).

In the end, this trade on the whole is a positive for the league. It teams up two exciting young players in Toronto (Gay and Lowry, always good for business), lets Memphis continue to push the limits of painfully-slow, avant-garde basketball, and allows Detroit to continue doing what Detroit does best: confuse and bewilder the basketball-watching public.

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